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Can storytelling save marketers from death by data?

Following the escalating torrent of interest in data, analytics and reporting – which has been threatening to overwhelm marketers – it was a relief to note that good fashioned-old creativity was back on the agenda at the annual B2B Marketing Conference.

The event took place at the home of the British Medical Association in Tavistock Square in London on November 1st, and the theme was ‘Liberate to innovate’ with the aim of helping marketers rise above their daily concerns and issues to embrace new ideas and opportunities. The first three speakers – Paul Cash, Will McInnes and Stan Woods – all spoke passionately about how social, political, economic and technological forces are profoundly changing the world of marketing, and that practitioners needed to adapt to survive.

But what was most refreshing was the focus on storytelling as one of the most compelling solutions to the need for B2B brands to find a new way of engaging with their audiences. Marketers need to create compelling narratives from their brand or product messages in order to cut through the increasingly fragmented and content-rich media landscape. Stan Woods, in particular, cited the examples of technology brands IBM, HP, Apple and Salesforce as being amongst the best in the field.

For me, this notion of storytelling (which we also included as our magazine cover story in October) comes as a breath of fresh air. It gives B2B marketers a remit to be creative once more, and build messages that have real resonance with their audiences – instead of feeling guilty that they haven’t got their head stuck in numbers.

In a world where marketers are under increasing pressure to be highly data literate and focused – if not obsessed – this is surely very welcome. It suggests that once again, as a profession, we are starting to value some of the older attributes that were once applied to marketers – things like empathy, insight and intuition. These have often sat at odds with the hard-edged, black and white world that has dawned across the marketing space, driven by advancements such as marketing automation.

Does that mean that we’re turning the clock back? Are data, analytics and marketing automation going out of fashion (almost before they came in)? Well, no, I’m afraid not. The need to be data savvy will not disappear any time soon – the reality is that marketers need to be good at both data AND storytelling. It’s not a choice, however much we might like it to be. Perhaps the best evidence of this is that some of the best proponents of content marketing and storytelling are, as previously mentioned, the technology brands – and in particular, marketing automation vendors like Eloqua and Marketo.

So once again, marketers are being expected to multitask – as seasoned B2B practitioners will note, there’s nothing new here. It’s long been the challenge for marketers in business sectors, and those able to master multiple requirements will fare better than specialists who stick rigidly to their silo or specialism.

The bad news is that storytelling does not mean we can forget about data – not completely at least. The good news, however, is that finally at least one of the requirements of the modern marketer appear to plays to the creative strengths of individual professionals, and - some might say – to the very heartland of the industry itself.

PS: you can view Paul Cash's keynote by clicking here.